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Why a 3-D Printer Giant Just Bought MakerBot

MakerBot founder Bre Pettis, the poster child for mainstream 3-D printing, merges his company with an industrial printing giant.

The Brooklyn-based 3-D printer startup MakerBot Industries just got a little less hip, since announcing yesterday that it had sold for $403 million in stock to Stratasys. The public company, founded in 1989 and based in Minnesota and Israel, is one of the two large manufacturers of expensive, industrial machines. It competes with 3D Systems, which already has a consumer 3D printer line.

For the last few years, the price of 3-D printers has been dropping and 3-D design files have become easier to create or find online. Desktop models, mostly the domain of hobbyists and professional designers and engineers, are starting to edge onto the mainstream consumer market. Staples, the office supply store, intends to start selling 3D Systems’ Cube line this summer, while MakerBot’s Replicator2 sells for just over $2,000, online and at its New York City storefront. 

But what MakerBot lost in its cool factor, which may not be much since it’ll keep operating independently, it has gained in winning the backing of a larger, well-resourced company. Its founder Bre Pettis has become the poster boy of the promise that 3D printing technology will one day reinvent manufacturing, turning people into “makers” who can create custom designs on command from their home or work (see “The Difference Between Makers and Manufacturers”). Time Magazine named Pettis one of the top 40 influential tech CEOs in the world in May. 

It’s hard to say whether the acquisition will boost Pettis’s ability to fulfill his vision, or bog it down within the machinations of a slower-moving company. What’s important to note, either way, is that consumer models have a ways to go before they can be broadly useful to most people (see “What Yoda Taught me About 3-D Printing”), and now the two companies together may be in the best position to make that happen. 

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